Young people have been known to leave their wallets in booths in restaurants, to forget that their credit cards are in a friend’s shirt pocket at the beach, or to absent-mindedly leave their glasses on the front car seat-crunch! When these kinds of common events happen to someone over sixty, though, uppermost on everyone’s mind is: “Is it Alzheimer’s?” “Is it dementia?” “Is this the beginning of the end?”
There is no need for such dire imaginings. Many of people’s top beliefs about seniors and memory loss are myths. Let’s take a closer look at some.
Myth #1: All older adults eventually get Alzheimer’s disease or suffer from dementia.
Fact: According to the American Psychological Association, most don’t. Less than 25% of people over the age of 65 get AD or dementia. Even for those over 85, less than 50% do.
Alzheimer’s isn’t inevitable. Don’t expect to get it and bring on a self-fulfilling prophecy by your negative thoughts on the matter! It’s not as widespread as you think.
Myth#2: If you’ve misplaced your keys, it’s an early sign of dementia.
Fact: Everyone misplaces their keys once in a while-young people too. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that young people lose their keys more often than older people do!
For everyone, keeping your keys in a specific, allocated place helps. Have a special hook near the front door or a glass dish on the end table where the keys go as soon as you come in. Keep them in a specific pocket or compartment of a briefcase or purse when you go out. Beware of exhilarating circumstances leading to forgetfulness. Going out with a group of friends you haven’t seen for a while could be the occasion of excitedly forgetting to put your keys in their normal place and losing them. This is due to simple distraction, not memory loss.
When keys are lost, use the time-tested, classic method of tracing back to when you last saw them. This works like a charm, and it will prove to the elderly person who retraces the steps that his or her memory is just fine!
Keeping track of small items that are frequently misplaced, like keys, hearing aids, glasses, wallets, or pills is mostly a matter of adhering to the old adage: “A place for everything and everything in its place!”
The American Psychological Association notes, however, that if a senior person forgets what the purpose of a key is, or how to use one in a lock, that indicates a more serious lapse of memory, and the senior should see a health care professional.
Myth#3: What you eat and drink have nothing to do with memory. Memory loss is related to age and brain function only.
Fact: Dehydration and poor nutrition can contribute to memory problems. Scientists Riebl and Davy found that a body water deficit of just 1% may hinder cognitive performance. What you take (or don’t take) into your body can definitely affect your mind.
Myth#4: So Grandma’s a little overweight and Grandpa smokes. They’re at an age when they should be able to enjoy life without worrying about such things.
Fact: Both obesity and smoking can contribute to memory loss. Again, basic good health practices can make a big difference in retaining memory. Such a practice would include exercise. The Alzheimer’s Association announced at their 2015 annual conference that three recent studies on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia showed that regular exercise reduces the risk of cognitive decline and may even reverse it.
Myth#5: It’s best to rest the brain a great deal when a person is older. Passive activities like watching TV help the brain go into relaxation mode and are good for preventing memory loss.
Fact: The exact opposite is true. An active mind and an active body contribute to sharper memory retention and help stave off memory loss. TV couch potatoes are doing themselves no favors as far as keeping their minds sharp. The American Psychological Association notes that reading, doing crossword puzzles, and exploring new interests and hobbies keep the brain active and exercised, as does physical exercise itself.
Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, AAIC Press Release, July 23, 2015. Going Beyond Risk Reduction: Physical Exercise May Be an Effective Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia. Available online at http://www.alz.org/aaic/releases_2015/Thurs1130amET.asp.
American Psychological Association. “Memory and Aging: Fears, Fallacies, and Facts.” November 18, 2014. APA Psychology Benefits Association, a blog from the APA Public Interest Directorate. Available online at http://psychologybenefits.org/2014/11/18/memory-and-aging/.
Riebl, S.K., Davey, B.M. (2013). The Hydration Equation: Update on Water Balance and Cognitive Performance. ACSM Health Fitness Journal, 17(6): 21-28. DOI: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e3182a9570f. Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207053/.